Friday, 3 February 2012

Civil Partnerships in Church

"We, the undersigned, believe that on the issue of holding civil partnership ceremonies in Church of England churches incumbents / priests in charge should be accorded the same rights as they enjoy at present in the matter of officiating at the marriage of divorced couples in church. Namely, that this should be a matter for the individual conscience of the incumbent / priest in charge.
We would respectfully request that our views in this regard are fully represented in Synod."

When I was asked to put my name to the letter being sent to the Proctors for Clergy in the Diocese of London and the Times and the Church Times, I didn't hesitate in signing.  Since announcing our engagement, my fiancĂ© and I have been overwhelmed by the love and the support shown to us by the congregation at St Botolph's, the wider Deanery and Diocese.  Hearty congratulations have been offered and prayers for our life together and we are both very grateful.

Relationships are sustained and strengthened by being recognised within the community.  Whilst enjoying the good wishes of my colleagues and friends, a sense of sadness remains for me thinking of those who are not given that public support and recognition; those whose life partners are of the same gender who are not able to be open about their love.

St Botolph without Aldgate has for many years been a place where all are welcomed, valued and loved.  As a church congregation and as its Rector, we firmly believe that a healthy and happy worshipping community recognises the love people share and add our voices to ask the General Synod to enable us to celebrate Civil Partnerships in church.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Sermon preached Sunday 24 July 2011 - knowing that any words will be entirely inadequate to the unfathomable events of this week.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8.38

Our New Testament reading today seems highly appropriate given the unfathomable and catastrophic events which have unfolded around the world this week.  It’s a verse which is often read at funerals, reminding us that whatever happens, there is one constant, unchanging, fixed point 
in our lives and in our deaths, the love of God.

Who would have thought on Tuesday with James and Rupert Murdoch appearing before a Commons Select Committee that in a few short days the scandal of phone-hacking would be relegated to the bottom of our news bulletins.   The events in Norway are of a scale it is difficult for us to comprehend.  The motivation for a bomb blast is difficult enough to think about, but that this was merely to divert attention away from the main target, the teenagers having fun on a summer camp is quite unfathomable.  The motivation of a nurse, charged yesterday with injecting bags of saline with insulin and causing the deaths of a number of patience, is unfathomable. The illness which screws up your whole being into a dependency on drugs and alcohol which lead to the tragically early death of Amy Winehouse is, for those who haven’t struggled with the depths of addiction, also unfathomable.

Who we are and how we are as human beings has, in each case, veered away from who we are created to be.  Let’s look at them one by one.  Even though she was only 27, the obituaries for Amy Winehouse were online too quickly for someone to have just written them.  They were clearly prepared well in advance, and it would seem that even her parents had acknowledged the fact that it was unlikely she would live a long life.    Her death seems to have divided opinion – many complaining about sympathy from others as they believed she was selfish and brought it on herself.  The torment of the human soul when bound up with addiction is one which unless you’ve been there yourself, is not possible to imagine the scale of.    It seems such a waste, but others are seeing Winehouse as belonging to that elite club of those who died at 27 – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, somehow timeless now in her musical contribution.  But she was still a friend, still a daughter, still a sister, and represents, leaving aside the hundreds and thousands of deaths from alcohol or tobacco each year, one of the over two and a half thousand people who die from drug abuse each year.  This is a tragedy for our country of epic proportions, and one more person has been added to that this weekend.   On an individual level, a tragedy for her and for her family, and representative of a much broader issue in our society.

It’s been difficult to avoid the facebook photographs of Rebecca Leighton, the nurse at Stepping Hill Hospital who has been charged over the deaths of five patients through the contamination of saline drips.  The photographs show a party girl just like any of the others you might find at the Abbey Bar or Mary Jane’s on the Minories – if you have not experienced the night-time economy of our parish, it is quite a change from the quiet Sunday mornings.  How can we possibly know what was going through the mind of someone whose whole job was to care for their patients. It seems as if she was playing Russian roulette, not with her own life, but with those on her ward.    Unfathomable, and yet it has happened in our country.

The most shocking events of the week, though, were the bomb and the shootings in Norway.  There has, quite rightly, been an outpouring of grief, shock and compassion for those who lost their lives, and those whose lives have been altered forever.  Although it has happened in another country, our global village means that we have watched as the horror unfolded.  Easily dismissed initially as the work of Muslim fundamentalists it is much harder for us to push away a massacre which was purportedly undertaken by a Christian.  As soon as the reports started trickling out that the gunman was tall and blond, the newscasters had to perform a volte face and look at the right-wing groups in their own country.

The motivation of Anders Behring Breivik was absolutely incomprehensible.  An expert wrote “If I were speculating, I would guess he was annoyed because of the Christian fundamentalism far-right idea that Norway's accessible open culture was being undermined by immigration,"  Early reports suggested the killings were carried out by a "deranged gunman". "This man was making a point that was very clearly thought through. [He] had a uniform – he was dressed as a policeman– he had planned well enough to have weapons (and ammunition) that he was going to shoot for two hours; he spoke to the kids saying, 'Gather round, I want to ask you some questions,' and then shot them and, crucially, he did not take his own life. This is somebody who is not ashamed of what he did. This man was making a point."

The gunman has released a 1500 page manifesto detailing the background to his crimes, the ideology which led him to the extraordinary idea that somehow killing his nation’s teenagers would be the catalyst for a European civil war.  Meticulously going through the history of the crusades and of Muslim immigration into  Europe, with chilling disregard for the human impact of his actions, the twisted logic of blaming those on the left leads him to describe in detail how to make a bomb, how to remain undetected, how he is the first in a wave of attacks leading to a full regaining of Europe for his cause by 2083.  Clearly a man of some intellect, somehow his mind has taken logical leaps which for others are inhuman and unthinkable, and he has thought them, written them all down in nearly seven hundred thousand words, and acted upon them.  I was wondering why he had allowed himself to be taken alive, but, having run out of bullets, it would seem he is looking to use his trial as a propaganda exercise and sees himself as the first of a line of reinvigorated knights templar forging a new crusade.

Much has been made of his being a Christian fundamentalist, but he states more than once that he is not actually a Christian, referring to Christians, Christian agnostics and Christian atheists and writing “Although not a religious person myself, I am usually in favor of a revitalisation of Christianity in Europe”  The concept of ‘Christendom’ is one far right groups cling to, whether they have a faith or not – they are culturally Christian and therefore can make a distinction between themselves and the Muslims they perceive to be invading and watering down their culture.

The far right may seem far removed from us here, but the English Defence league are planning on marching in Tower Hamlets again, and reactionary Christian thinking is certainly on the rise.  Our task is to challenge the gut prejudices of people who somehow think that it’s ok to demonise huge chunks of society.

We probably stand for all the things that Breivik hates, all that he perceived was wrong in Western Europe, we are inclusive, embracing our multicultural society, we believe in gender equality, try to remove barriers put in place over race, class, sexuality and disability.   We preach tolerance and human worth, the love of God piercing the darkness of pain and suffering. 

Paul Tillich wrote: “In the moment when we feel separated from God, meaningless in our lives and condemned to despair, we are not left alone.” 

As Christians we are called to declare the worth of every human being, and to challenge assumptions which demean and degrade our brothers and sisters.  As tragedies unfold, learning about what motivates people, looking into that unfathomable abyss of evil, of suffering or of pain, is exactly where we will find God, where we will be able to speak words of peace.

For I am convinced that neither death , nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Time like an ever rolling stream

These two videos show people going around their everyday lives in London. The Open Road  London 1920 takes us on a fascinating tour of London, with Petticoat Lane between 6' and 6'30.  Petticoat Lane 1903 shows how busy the market has always been, and also how much has changed over the last century.  

Whilst watching it I've been singing the well known lines from O God our help in ages past to myself.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

The people on these videos were going about their everyday, modern lives.  Our lives are fleeting, our time precious.  

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Ecumenical Relations...

Today would have been my paternal Grandmother's one hundredth birthday.  I've been remembering her particularly recently with news of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.  My grandmother was born a Mowbray, a direct descendent of A. R. Mowbray who founded the publishing house active in the Oxford Movement.  Her side of the family became Roman Catholic and she often told stories of watching processions to the newly built Westminster Cathedral.

On marriage to my grandfather, her church going was put on hold - for 50 years!  Following my grandfather's death she returned to the Roman Catholic church, only to find it totally changed; Vatican II had completely passed her by and she missed the Latin Mass.  However, she remained to her death an ardent member of the Roman Catholic Church.  At my ordination she was very proud that her granddaughter was following a path usually taken by men, but couldn't see it happening in her own church.  

I had many conversations with my grandmother about the church, and if we ever strayed into discussions about ecumenism, her view was always 'you burnt us'...    ecumenism on a timescale of centuries.  

The twentieth century saw extraordinary advances in ecumenical relations, a long way from the 'you burnt us' mentality.  With the advent of the Ordinariate,  I'm wondering what the future will hold, both for the Church of England, and for ongoing ecumenical dialogue and will be watching developments with interest.

In the meantime, today I'm celebrating the life of Ethel Pauline Mardon Burgess, my fabulous grandmother.